One of the year’s best popular natural histories.

AN IMMENSE WORLD

HOW ANIMAL SENSES REVEAL THE HIDDEN REALMS AROUND US

An ingenious account of how living organisms perceive the world.

In his 1974 essay, “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?” philosopher Thomas Nagel argued that other animals experience a world utterly foreign to us, one nearly impossible to describe. In this follow-up to I Contain Multitudes, Yong, a staff reporter for the Atlantic who won a Pulitzer in 2021 for his reporting on Covid-19, mostly follows the traditional popular science format (travel the world, interview experts), but he takes a different, realistic, and utterly fascinating approach, emphasizing that every organism perceives only a tiny slice of the world accessible to its senses. A tick searching for blood is exquisitely sensitive to body heat, the touch of hair, and the odor of butyric acid from skin. The tick doesn’t willfully ignore the surrounding plants and animals; it doesn’t know that they exist. This involves the zoological term umwelt, the German word for environment that refers to what an animal can sense: its perceptual world. The human umwelt includes excellent vision, tolerable hearing, mediocre smell (but better than dog enthusiasts claim), some chemical sensitivity (mostly in the nose and taste buds), a touch of echolocation, and no ability to detect electromagnetic fields. In a dozen chapters, Yong delivers entertaining accounts of how animals both common and exotic sense the world as well as the often bizarre organs that enable them to do so. “There are animals with eyes on their genitals, ears on their knees, noses on their limbs, and tongues all over their skin,” writes the author. “Starfish see with the tips of their arms, and sea urchins with their entire bodies. The star-nosed mole feels around with its nose, while the manatee uses its lips.” Building on Aristotle’s traditional five senses, Yong adds expert accounts of 20th-century discoveries of senses for echoes, electricity, and magnetism as well as perceptions we take for granted, including color, pain, and temperature.

One of the year’s best popular natural histories.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-13323-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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HOW DO APPLES GROW?

A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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